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A brief look into the history of Mughal Paintings:Court painters from the Mughal empire in India created detailed portraits of some of the most powerful and wealthy figures of the 17th century. These paintings traveled to Europe through trade, where their fine lines and majestic subjects inspired artists like Rembrandt. Learn how the Mughal painters employed a variety of natural pigments in their brilliantly colored images of emperors and elites.

Left: The Night Watch - Undoubtedly the most well known and stylistically recognised of Rembrandt’s work. Right: "Shah Jahan and His Son" - Rembrandt`s interpretation of Mughal art.

A Mughal Nobleman on Horseback (Shah Jahan)

Portrait of Aurangzeb

Four Mullahs Seated under a Tree (Sheikh Husain Jami, Sheikh Husain Ajmeri, Sheikh Muhammad Mazandarani, and Sheikh Miyan Mir)

Shah Jahan and Dara Shikoh

Shah Jahan, Standing with a Flower and a Sword

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News 25 Apr 2018

The Rembrandt exhibition highlighting the artist’s lesser know Mughal Inspired works

Those familiar with Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, may have a specific idea of how the work contributed by the Dutch painter may look. European imagery, pronounced dark and light contrasts, biblical themes, etc. His work however also comprises of a series of drawings inspired by portraits done by Mughal artists. These detailed and very Indian in aesthetic drawings are a far cry from what many have come to expect from Rembrandt, intriguing viewers and provoking their curiosity.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, commonly referred to as Rembrandt, is one of the most prominent figures in European art history, particularly Dutch history. The period during which he was the most active was characterised by high economic wealth and great strides within art and culture. This span of time (during the 17th century) was called the “Dutch Golden Age” 

Rembrandt covered various topics and themes as subjects for his paintings. These included commissioned portraits, self portraits, mythological themes, religious or biblical stories, landscapes, social gatherings and animal studies. He was famous for his incorporation of light into his paintings. Many of his works have a sense of spatial depth, where some areas seem like they recede into darkness, some portions (usually the primary subject, people, or scene) are illuminated and given something akin to a glow.

A brief look into the history of Mughal Paintings:Court painters from the Mughal empire in India created detailed portraits of some of the most powerful and wealthy figures of the 17th century. These paintings traveled to Europe through trade, where their fine lines and majestic subjects inspired artists like Rembrandt. Learn how the Mughal painters employed a variety of natural pigments in their brilliantly colored images of emperors and elites.

The work of Rembrandt is widely understood and expected to be Eurocentric. This is what makes his drawings based on Mughal portraits by Indian artists so fascinating. It is a dramatic departure from his usual aesthetic and subject matter.

Left: The Night Watch - Undoubtedly the most well known and stylistically recognised of Rembrandt’s work. Right: "Shah Jahan and His Son" - Rembrandt`s interpretation of Mughal art.

Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India

The J. Paul Getty Museum will be displaying 23 of Rembrandt’s Mughal inspired work from March 13th - june 24th, 2018. Curated by Stephanie Schrader, from the Department of Drawings, the exhibition will see the images displayed besides the portraits that inspire them, juxtaposing the drawings with the vibrant art style of a vastly different culture. Spurred on by a curiosity of the unfamiliar and only read about, Rembrandt was taken with the artistic and stylistic differences depicted in Mughal portraits and paintings.

A Mughal Nobleman on Horseback (Shah Jahan)

Portrait of Aurangzeb

“The work of Rembrandt is widely understood and expected to be eurocentric. This is what makes his drawings based on Mughal portraits by Indian artists so fascinating.”

Indian art (like those in Rembrandt’s possession) were brought over on Dutch East India Company ships from the Dutch trading post In Surat. At the time, the Dutch East India company controlled Asian trade, which contributed to cultural exchange and artists getting inspired by foreign creative styles. Indian artists were also exposed to Dutch and Flemish printed works of European rulers and scenes of everyday life.

Four Mullahs Seated under a Tree (Sheikh Husain Jami, Sheikh Husain Ajmeri, Sheikh Muhammad Mazandarani, and Sheikh Miyan Mir)

Rembrandt was particularly intrigued by Shah Jahan, having drawn the Mughal emperor eight times. The drawings showed a keen attention to detail as he documented small details of the emperor’s facial features, his clothing (chakdar jama) and that the emperor’s beard had turned white after the passing of his wife.

Shah Jahan and Dara Shikoh

The drawings were done on a rare asian paper, implying that Rembrandt himself thought the work to be quite valuable. They are also his only surviving works on said paper. His drawings also took into account details of fabric draping, jewellery, footwear and turbans. One gets the sense that he was trying to learn and understand Mughal culture through his own interpretations of their art.

Shah Jahan, Standing with a Flower and a Sword

To get more information, schedule a visit or look at images from “Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India”, click here.